Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Chapter the Thirteenth
The shuttle lodged firmly and the magnetics died as the man in back reached for the release. He was on his feet before the pilot’s laconic Trade instructed that all might now leave by the rear door.
Touching his belt to make certain that the all-important papers still rode secure, the man did just that.
He stopped in the center of the reception area, craning like any tourist, while his former shuttle-mates flowed, talking and laughing, around him.
On that wall, the venerable Tree-and-Dragon, displayed on every Korval vessell, yet never so prominently as on this, the flagship. On this other wall, a collage of the images of distinguished visitors to the ship. Under one’s feet, Bilshedian carpet; above one’s head, crystals, cunningly refracting and reflecting the chamber’s light.
Before him, a tow-headed child in neat shirt and trousers. The badge on his shoulder read “Arbuthnot.”
The man bowed.
The child bowed also, though belatedly, which put the man in forcible mind of his own young heir.
“I’m Gordy Arbuthnot. Cap’n yos’Galan asked me to bring you to him.”
“I am honored,” he murmured properly, though Trade robbed the words of a measure of their value. A glance at the young face brought forth a glimmer of smile.
“I am happy to go with you to the captain, young sir,” he hinted, and the boy laughed.
“Crelm! What a dummy I am!” he said in rueful Terran and gestured widely toward the door. “Right this way.”
“Come!” a voice called and the door slid away before them. The boy led the way into the room and bowed before the untidy desk.
“Cap’n yos’Galan, here is Master tel’Domit, come to see you.”
“Is he? How delightful of him to visit, don’t you think so, Priscilla?”
The man behind the desk was white-haired, silver eyed and big-nosed, built to Terran specifications, rather than Liaden. None of this surprised.
What did surprise was the woman who stood nearby. His moment of incredulous observation yielded the information that she was astonishingly lovely; and then he must need bow and pull the treasured papers from their safe-place and murmur all that was correct.
“Mich tel’Domit, Master Pilot, and third in command of Sunjumper, come to take position as Second Mate of Dutiful Passage, if Captain yos’Galan is willing.”
“Willing? Why shouldn’t I be willing? The question is, sir, if you are willing. I’ve known persons of quite strong character to beg leave to quit the ship after being met by Gordy. If you find you simply can’t bear it, tell me, and no dishonor will attach to you.”
Mich straightened slowly, buying time to sort out the spate of Terran words. A quick glance at the boy showed that he was grinning.
“The young sir was most helpful,” he managed in the cumbersome Terran tongue. “I report to the captain in joy.”
Silver eyes regarded him blandly.
“How many Terrans were on Sunjumper’s roster?”
“At the time I leave my post, there are — were — no Terrans in the crew. When first I come, there are two.” He frowned with the effort to clarify. “They go to other Korval ships, sir. Promoted.”
A wave of a big hand, Master Trader’s ring glinting.
“My dreadful manners! Priscilla, here is Mich tel’Domit, who will be second mate. Master tel’Domit, this is Priscilla Delacroix y Mendoza, First Mate.”
“I am pleased to meet you, Mich tel’Domit,” the woman said in welcome High Liaden.
He faced her and bowed with relief.
“I am pleased to meet you, Priscilla Dela Croyee –” He floundered and straightened, hot-faced. “Forgive me.”
She laughed softly.
“Priscilla Mendoza is perfectly adequate.”
Astonishingly lovely, and barely more than a halfling, now that he saw her fully. No need to look far for the reason she held so exalted a post. . . He bowed once more.
Captain yos’Galan came around the desk and held out his hand. Mich handed him the papers. The slanted silver brows rose.
“I meant to shake your hand.”
He bowed then, with a flourish of welcome.
“I am pleased you are here, Mich tel’Domit,” he said, the High Tongue pure as crystal chime. “May the luck send that we all work well, to mutual profit.”
He turned to the woman, the First Mate, slipping effortlessly back into Terran.
“All right, Priscilla; he’s all yours.”
They were walking side-by-side down Corridor Axis Teluf-Vange, having passed the Library and heading toward crew quarters. Mich had learned that this was his superior’s second trip upon Dutiful Passage, where she had previously held the rank of Pet Librarian. She claimed to be a First Class Pilot, and that he did not doubt, though she was, perhaps, young for the rank. He had also learned other things that called into question his first guess at her abilities, though not her primary function. It was known that Korval valued competence. Even, one assumed, in a pleasure-love.
They rounded a corner, silent for the nonce, and into the middle of an altercation.
“I do not care,” the small woman was saying with passion, “if it is what everyone else on your homeworld does! It is perfectly dreadful, Rah Stee, and I hope you will not persist in it!”
“I like it,” the man, obviously Terran, said mildly. He fingered the brush of hair between nose and mouth nervously.
“Think it adds dash. Give it a chance and I bet you’ll like it, too. Anyhow, it’s my face, not — Cilla!”
“It is certainly not Priscilla,” agreed the woman, but her companion had lumbered forward, flinging his arms wide in a clumsy hug.
The First Mate suffered herself to be embraced, and raised no objection when the man kissed her cheek. Mich schooled his own face, carefully looking at nothing. It was not inconceivable that the two were kin.
“Oh, no, Priscilla, do not tell him so!”
The Liaden woman flung forward, catching the Mate’s hand.
“Tell him it is dreadful and that he must make it go away!”
“Lina.” The Terran woman’s smile was soft. “It’s good to see you.”
“Ah, and it is good to see you — and we all forget our manners! See, Rah Stee, we have a guest — you must face him with hair on your mouth!”
“Doesn’t bother me,” the man muttered.
The First Mate laughed.
“Mich tel’Domit, Second Mate, here are Lina Faaldom, Librarian and Healer; and Rusty Morgenstern, Chief Radio Tech.”
The Liaden woman bowed.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mich tel’Domit.”
“Hi,” said Rusty Morgenstern.
Mich bowed and chose careful Terran words.
“I am pleased to meet both Librarian and Radio Tech.”
Lina Faaldom’s honey-brown eyes caught his, and she smiled.
“We are keeping you from your orientation, I think. Pay no mind to us. It is always this way, though not, I think, to the depth of this folly. Priscilla will tell you.”
“They fight all the time,” the First Mate said, laughing her soft, seductive laugh. “I’ll see you both later.”
“We’ve completed the circuit,” she told Mich as they continued down the hall. “Why don’t I leave you at your cabin so you can get yourself sorted out? Then, I’ll guide you to Prime in an hour.”
It took a moment to understand that the question was in fact an order. Mich bowed hurriedly.
“Fine,” said Priscilla, and turned down a side hall.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Now, here’s someone with a legitimate melant’i concern. Mich tel’Domit is Second Mate, which means that part of his job is to support the First Mate. But if the First Mate’s previous position on the Passage was Pet Librarian (which, by the way, it was not), how much can she know about her job? How much is he going to be expected to cover for her, and is he being set up as the goat, in case something goes catastrophically wrong?
Even if Mich had the whole story — Priscilla signed on part-way through the last trip as Pet Librarian, rose to Second Mate and thence properly to First, filling the gap in command created by Kayzin Ne’Zame’s leaving in order to take Daxflan home — that’s. . .meteoric. And he’s still gotta be asking himself how much this woman actually knows about her job.
First Mate is a position you typically reach after years of service in increasingly sensitive positions. Which also gives us some idea of how old Mich is — another clue being that Mich sees “a child” when he looks at Gordy and someone who is “barely more” than a halfling when he looks at Priscilla.
On supposes that Shan has chosen Mich as Second Mate for a reason, and not just because he has time in grade. And, certainly, choosing an older, steadier, more experienced officer to support the new First Mate isn’t a completely daft thing to do. Though it might have been nice if he would have Communicated More Fully with the man than he seems to have done.
Unless it’s A Test. One isn’t always certain, with Shan.
Speaking to Mich, himself. . .Clearly, he needs some time in the sleep learner for his Terran, and he also needs to spend some time with the Cultural Officer (is there specific mention of the Cultural Officer back this far?), brushing up — or becoming acquainted — with Terran manners and mores — deficiencies which incline me more toward A Test, or even Several Tests. That said, his temperament seems suited to the Passage’s peculiar culture. Yes, he’s confused by some of the things he’s encountered, but he’s not horrified. A planet-bound Liaden would have fainted dead away by this point. Or challenged the whole crew to a duel.
. . .Thinking about the story framed thus far, it seems as if Steve and I wanted to talk about assumptions — the assumption that a “little boy” cannot have abilities or interests that baffle his elders; the assumption that people who appear to have been elevated beyond their abilities must have arrived there via Suspicious Avenues.
It’s perhaps unfortunate that, as the cast of characters is structured, the person to whom some Very Serious Assumptions have been applied is female — because these are exactly the same sort of assumptions that continue to be made of women today, and are therefore either “invisible,” or “feminist” — and in either case dismissible by a certain segment of readers.
Had it been Peter Mendoza who had fallen under Shan’s care and into his heart, our point would have been sharper*. On the other hand, given that we were writing this in 1986/1988 — let’s split the difference and call it 28 years ago — Conflict of Honors wouldn’t have gotten into orbit with Peter and Shan aboard.
*Funny how swapping things around in a story sometimes gets people to think. When we were writing Fledgling/Saltation and the point came up that established female scholars often took younger men as their onagrata, thereby casting aside older male scholars, and leaving them on their own in diminished circumstances, we apparently hit a nerve in some of our male readership.
“That’s just not fair!” one young man told me, hotly.
“Oh,” I said; “isn’t it?”
July 13, 2015
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